How does Martin Luther King address the counter-argument that disobedience of the law leads to anarchy in his "Letter from Birmingham City Jail"?  

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Within his seminal "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," King repeatedly makes a distinction between just and unjust laws. He puts it simply by stating that any law that uplifts human personality is just and any law that degrades human personality is unjust. He uses numerous examples of unjust laws to illustrate this distinction, including Nebuchadnezzar, Roman persecution of Christians, the Boston Tea Party, and the systematic genocide of Jews and other minorities by the Nazi party.

This distinction is crucial to his counterargument that disobedience to the law leads to anarchy. About halfway through his letter, King writes:

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Thus, King acknowledges that the breaking of laws without thought could lead to anarchy. However, he argues that unjust laws do not deserve the same respect and must be changed. Anarchy is not the result of civil disobedience and peaceful protest. Instead, willing and thoughtful action that moves toward changing unjust laws actually makes our society better and more orderly, as it strengthens our legal system by eliminating the laws that prey on minority populations.

The Boston Tea Party paved the way for a more representative and fair government in the United States; the defeat of Nazi Germany led to the liberation of the Jewish people; and academic freedom was the result, at least in part, of Socrates's civil disobedience. All of these acts led to a more orderly society through individuals willingly and lovingly breaking the law in order to eliminate injustice.

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Dr. King addresses the argument that disobedience of the law leads to anarchy in several ways. First, he says that according to the laws of non-violence that he follows, people must disobey the law openly and must accept the punishment of disobeying the law. (Therefore, the people in Dr. King's movement did not resist physically when they were jailed, as he did not when he was jailed in Birmingham, though they did resist by writing, speaking, and protesting). Therefore, their breaking the law does not lead to anarchy, as they accept the consequences of having broken it.

In addition, he makes several biblical and historical allusions to people who disobeyed the law, including the early Christians, who were forced to face hungry lions because of their beliefs, and the patriots at the Boston Tea Party. He also cites the actions of Socrates, who created academic freedom with his defiance of the authorities. Dr. King also cites examples of people breaking laws that were clearly wrong. For example, Hitler's actions were legal in Nazi Germany, so those who defied his tyranny were technically breaking the law. Therefore, their actions that broke the law could be seen as creating order rather than as resulting in anarchy.

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Martin Luther King argues that “there are two kinds of laws: just and unjust." He says that every person has the moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws while obeying just laws. He defines just laws as those which “square with the moral law or the law of God” and unjust laws as those which do not align with the moral law; for instance, laws that are selectively applied to a small section of the population. Further, he asserts that unjust laws should be broken “openly, lovingly, and with the willingness to accept the consequences of one’s actions." This statement implies that disobedience of unjust laws can only lead to anarchy if done in a manner that is not open, loving, or without the full understanding of the consequences of actions taken. It is important for those involved in this type of civil disobedience to understand that their choices have consequences. They should also be willing to gladly accept these consequences, however difficult or painful they may be. He gives an example of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego in the Bible, and how they refused to obey the law that required them to worship a golden statue, as this law contradicted their belief in a single God. The three publicly defied King Nebuchadnezzar’s law, and their defiance is a good example of the kind of civil disobedience that Martin Luther King Jr. was advocating for.

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In his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," King addresses this subject directly. After explaining the tenets of civil disobedience, and asserting the principle that obedience to unjust laws was the duty of moral people, King answers this counter-argument in two ways. First, he argues that it is in fact the segregationists who are violating the law, and that the atmosphere that tolerates abuse and discrimination toward African-Americans is more like anarchy that any situation created by civil rights protesters. If this is true, then violation of segregation laws is in fact lawful in the eyes of God and, in a perfect world, man:

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust. and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

In other words, King and the Birmingham protesters were promoting just laws by violating unjust laws. In this way, he recast the segregationists as anarchists and civil rights workers as the truly law-abiding citizens. Pointing out that the actions of Hitler and the Communists were "legal" in their respective societies, he argues that advocates for religious freedom, Socrates, the early Christians, and even the Patriots who participated in the Boston Tea Party were practitioners of civil disobedience.

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